Wednesday, April 4, 2018
In the music world, self-titled albums are common, and self-titled songs are less so. Having two self-titled songs on the same album—well, that is an anomaly. But then again, Justin Scott, better known as hip-hop artist Big K.R.I.T., says that he has always felt like a bit of an anomaly.
It is a feeling that has long been present in his work, from the space-inspired cover art, atmospheric sounds, but also in the meta-narrative behind his music. It is a story that is still unfolding, he says.
The Meridian, Miss., native announced in the summer of 2016 that he had split from Def Jam Records after about six years with the legendary label. Rather than seeking out a new contract with another major label, though, Scott decided to use the opportunity to officially launch his own label, Multi Alumni. More than that, he says that he wanted to take time and create his most personal and expansive recording project yet.
In late October 2017, after about two and a half years of working on the project, Scott put out his third studio album as Big K.R.I.T., "4eva Is a Mighty Long Time," a 22-track double album that centered on his duality as an entertainer and as a real person.
Scott is currently on the road promoting the album through the "Heavy Is the Crown" national tour, which brings him to the capital city on Thursday, April 5. The Jackson Free Press recently spoke with him over the phone about the process of tackling two sides of himself on "4eva Is a Mighty Long Time," and taking the reins of his career as an artist, producer and executive.
What made you decide it was time for a new album as opposed to another mixtape?
I would say because, you know, mixtapes are what I've done. I obviously have a lot more mixtapes than I do albums, and I just had been gone for so long. It was like two and a half years, and I think I did (mixtape) "It's Better This Way" and "#12FOR12," which was also pretty much a mixtape, too. But I just didn't think a tape was how I needed to start off.
In the end, I had been recording so many songs, and I think it was also just that time for me where I really wanted to do a double album. I'd always wanted to do one. I think I actually wanted "Live from the Underground" (his 2012 album) to be one, but we just couldn't, just with the label and budgets and stuff.
So this one, I was like, "I'm free. I can do exactly what I want to." We decided to make it a double. I've always had a hard time sequencing records because I'd have the trunk-rattling, aggressive car-slab music, and then I'd have a song that was more pertaining to how I was feeling at the time, maybe like "The Vent" or something like that, where it breaks up the entire album. It's like an abrupt stop sonically on the low, so it was like, "Well, how do I raise people's spirits again?"
With this album, I decided to really tell my story, the duality of me. On one album, I could go be super hip-hop, rapper, superhero vibe, and then the Justin Scott side could be how I feel at home. It could have those elements of, sometimes, the insecurity, the doubt, the depression, the anxiety, but how I keep my faith together in a record like "Mixed Messages," where sometimes we all have confusing messages that we send out.
It's a blessing because I think we're at a place where everyone is starting to realize that there's a lot going on in society, a lot of social topics, and the presidential aspect. There's just so much going on. It gave me the opportunity to speak my truth, and people were ready to embrace it. It's been an amazing journey thus far.
When you have that defined split in terms of tone and lyrics, how do you also communicate that duality in the music?
Thank God that I actually produce, too, because sonically I could tell off the bat what made more sense. A record like "Drinking Sessions," being so stripped-down and the piano chords and the blues horns, ... the elements of that record sounded like "Justin Scott" to me. It didn't necessarily sound like hip-hop. It sounded like something else.
Even the intro to "Justin Scott," and I worked with DJ Khalil on that record, and it was important that I didn't rap on it because when I'm at home, as a music lover, I just love soul music, so I play records that I have nothing to do with and just vibe out. I wanted that to kind of (show) how I listen to music at home.
A lot of people don't even realize that I sampled the "Justin Scott" intro for the "Big K.R.I.T." intro and then rap on the "Big K.R.I.T." intro because that's what I do. That's what people know me for.
But just sonically, "Price of Fame" would not have worked on the "Big K.R.I.T." side. "Mixed Messages" would not have worked on the "Big K.R.I.T." side because it would have diluted everything on that side had it been on it. But it makes so much sense on the "Justin Scott" side because it's more vulnerable. It's the transparent part of me.
And I've always been this way, but you put that face on, that mask on, to go out in the world and be able to deal with the negativity and to try to embrace positivity. Then, you get back home and deal with all that. There might be one comment while you're at home, and it makes you question everything.
When you're putting not just your name as an artist but your name as a person on the album, you're kind of saying, "This represents all of me." Was that difficult for you?
Yeah, just a tad bit because you still leave yourself out there people to be like, "Mm, I don't like that vibe, and mm, I don't like that vibe. I would rather you rap about candy-paint (metallic finish) and cars," you know what I'm saying?" [Laughs] Like, "Oh, no. We don't want to be sad." ... But I think about a lot of old-school artists. I think about the Bobby Womacks, the Curtis Mayfields, Al Green, Willie Hutch and all these people. When they were doing these songs, I don't think they were much concerned about what people think about the songs as much as, "I have to tell you about this. I have to speak on this."
I had to look at it from that perspective. If people don't get it now, then maybe when they're 40, 50, 60—Lord willing, people still listen to my music—they'll go back and something will resonate with them. That's what timeless music is. And I have to grow as an artist.
If the people who listen to me aren't there yet ... or maybe don't recognize anxiety yet, or maybe they feel like they're not abusing their vice or they don't understand what that may be doing to them, then maybe when they do get to that point, my song will make more sense, and it'll be helpful to them to know, "I went through it, too. I understand, and we can relate."
Once I started to look at it from that perspective, it made it so much easier to put my government name on my album. But it's also made it easy to do interviews. We have conversations like this, and like a lot of the radio people that I've talked to, they've also gone through depression. The room opens up, and we start having conversations that aren't surface, you know? It's a beautiful experience, man.
Your fans might recognize the connection between the titles of "4eva Is a Mighty Long Time" and several of your past releases, including "Return of 4eva" and "4eva N a Day." What's the reason for that?
Well, all of my albums have a story I'm telling, and I have no idea how it's going to end. [Laughs] But it started with "K.R.I.T. Wuz Here" (his 2010 album) even, that idea of more of an alien perspective or a being somewhere, and letting people know that I've been there, I've done this, or I'm a part of this whether you realize it or not. Then, going to "Return of 4Eva," and that having still more of an outer-space experience to it, trying to take people somewhere.
I think some of that comes with me being from Meridian, Mississippi, and sometimes feeling so much like an outsider. I always felt like I needed to bring people to where I was from and having this more outcast, alien perspective when I do go out, because I know that, "OK. People may not be as familiar with where I'm from or have never been. I've got to take them there."
And you know, I love sci-fi. I think outer space is the only place we all look at in awe, the stars and the planets, and there's just this mystery behind it.
So creating my albums, even "4eva Is a Mighty Long Time," I'm still giving it that space where it fits with "Return of 4eva" and fits with "4eva N a Day," which was the first (release) where I really showed people that I had two sides—that album cover with the little boy, the church being on the left side and a strip club on the right, the Bible on his left but the bottle on the right, and having to deal with that.
So I've always been putting that in my music. I just think this is the first time I could materialize it with two different albums and really be playing with exactly what the album is about and even show it with the album cover.
I've never been the type of person to put my face on album covers, so this was the first time that I was like, "No, I have to put my face. I have to show the energy and how it's different."
This is also your first release through your label, Multi Alumni. What was the experience like having to be both an artist and an executive on this album?
Scary! [Laughs] It was scary at first because it's the realization, "Ooh, the ball is in your court now," you know? But having the strong team that I have, my manager (Sheldon "Dutch" John) and (Steven "Steve-O" Brown of public-relations company GFCNY) on the marketing level, definitely helped.
These are people that I've been working with for years, and (they) have a really good understanding of what my vision has always been for my music and how to take it to the next level.
I've been branding Multi since 2005, right? But it's one of those things where 2010 is where we really started, and even when I was signed to Def Jam, I never stopped screaming Multi and never stopped building what that meant. If anything, that was something I had the opportunity to do while signed to a major (label) was continuously putting my brand at the forefront.
So once we left Def Jam, Multi was still there and active, and people know that it's not just about me, but it's about being a king or queen of whatever you do, and having to multi-task and play more than one position in life to ensure your success.
The fact that I produce, and I rap, and I can mix my own records and (engineer) my own records, it put me in a position where I could survive off music longer than most. And then, it puts us in a boss situation where I'll never sign as an artist (on another label). It can only be partnerships from this point on because now I have Multi.
Why did you decide to go through the process of launching Multi Alumni instead of trying to shop the album out to have another major record label to release it?
Well, we went through BMG (Rights Management for distribution), but the thing about the label, in most cases, is the way that you create music having a mind for business is very important because business can get in the way.
It can really affect how you are in the studio, affect the music or affect how you record. Even your delivery on a song can be affected by the people in the room and what they may be looking for.
I've spent a lot of time sitting down in a boardroom, playing my album for people and hoping that they got it. If they didn't get it, then you're kind of fighting an uphill battle at that point, you know? This is the first album where I just (said), "This is the album. Let's go."
It's not where you have to play it for a lot of people, and they go, "Well, this is going to be the single." I was like, "No. This is the single. These are the videos. This is the album cover. This is how it looks, and this is the feel. Let's go." And even better, it was like, "This is the date. This is when we drop it."
It just was a freedom where it's so crazy because I'm so used to always working. The deadlines are usually so short that you work clean up until the deadline, and then, you go on tour immediately.
This is the first time where I was done with the album, everything was getting pressed, everything was working, and I was like, "So what am I supposed to do? What do you need me to do?" I'm asking my manager who's like, "Just chill! I don't need nothing from you!" [Laughs]
What have you learned since putting out your last album, "Cadillactica," in 2014 that you wanted to apply to "4eva"?
Man, life—I started living a little more. I spend so much time in the studio, man, that I really wasn't going outside and just enjoying nature and wherever I was at and actually being in the moment.
I was always thinking about the next song. I was always thinking about the next move and musically what I could do differently, and trying to compete and chase accolades ... in between "Cadillactica," that tour, getting off the label and what that meant and felt like, almost going to a point where people almost forgot about me.
You know, I pretty much went broke doing the album because I was investing all my money into it without the label knowing. I wanted to finish it without asking for any budget or anything. And man, I realized that money doesn't make you happy, and I realized that I had been abusing my vice in different ways.
That was affecting my emotions and the people around me. And my lady (neo-soul artist and singer-songwriter Mara Hruby) was a very impactful person in my life because she would get me out of the studio, get me out of the house, and we'd go experience things, and we'd travel.
It just helped with getting back in the studio and helped with writing and being more vulnerable on songs when, normally, I would try to kind of deal with whatever I was dealing with in life and not write about it. But I definitely put it all in this album. "Drinking Sessions," I was going through something the day that I wrote that, and I recorded it as it was. People can hear it and feel that I was being genuine.
Even without chasing the accolades, "4eva" peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, No. 5 on the R&B/hip-hop albums chart, No. 4 on the rap albums chart and No. 2 on the independent albums chart. What was it like to see that kind of impact after working on it for so long?
It means that people still want to hear my music. It means that I wasn't wrong about taking this route, the road less traveled. It paid off. It builds a certain amount of confidence that people, you know, can always expect me to do my best and always try to grow and to not conform and fit into whatever the latest trend might be, either.
People don't necessarily come to me or listen to my music for that. I think they enjoy that I'm going to give them something a little different.
(It shows) that you can be 100-percent yourself and still crack those numbers, still get the radio support and still do the radio interviews and be able to perform onstage with other artists, get the tours and all that by just being yourself without having to be (about) the shock value.
Big K.R.I.T. performs at 8 p.m., Thursday, April 5, at Hal & Mal's (200 Commerce St.). General admission is $28.50, the early entry package is $100, and the meet-and-greet package is $150 at ticketfly.com. Doors open at 7 p.m. Visit bigkrit.com.